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“That inflatable David Hasselhoff doll was a terrible mistake”

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Cast your mind back ten years, when you could go to the pub, drink 12 pints of snakebite, stumble back home via the kebab van and fall asleep on your mum’s sofa.

In those days, usually, the only repercussions would be a hangover that lasted most of the next day.  If you were very unlucky, you’d wake to find your mum standing over you demanding an explanation for the lumpy puddle that had mysteriously appeared next to the coffee table.

These days – it’s all changed.

After an evening watching the box-set of “Selling Sunset”, clearing the fridge of Stella Artois, followed by half a bottle of Jagermeister, you run the real risk of a DPD van turning up the next day with a life-size blow-up David Hasselhoff fantasy doll.

Amazon’s one-click buying makes making regretful buying decisions really easy. Digital Signatures

What’s the big deal?

It’s like when you buy a house.

I’m not saying that buying a house is the same as buying Bisto from Tesco Online.  Although a client recently complained when we exchanged a week late. Saying that “if I had ordered my Christmas dinner from Marks & Spencer, how annoyed would I be if it didn’t arrive by December 25th?”

It’s just that when you buy a house, the risks are huge and lots of things can go expensively wrong.  That’s why people use lawyers; so when their upstairs neighbours decide to fence off your client’s access to the ground floor flat garden, they can call us up and ask tricky questions.

We don’t really like those types of conversations. So, we make sure our client’s sign forms saying they’ve read everything we’ve written.

And buyers have to sign LOTS of forms.  That they’ve read our report on title.  That they agree to break the chain.  That they don’t want searches.  Even that they’ll actually move out by 2.00 pm without nicking all the light switches.

We’ve got 30-odd forms and we’re not alone – any law firm with half an eye to avoiding claims does the same.

So what’s the problem?

In the good old days before March 23rd last year, if we needed a form signing, we’d upload it to our portal. Within the next day or so it would appear in our inbox, signed and ready to go.

However, these days, it isn’t that simple. With clients not going into offices, they don’t have access to printers, so law firms are forced to stick them in the post.  Which is an additional week’s delay for each form that suddenly needs signing at the last minute.

This is a major contributor to some of the huge delays we are seeing in the conveyancing process right now. Forget local searches, it’s form signing that’s a big part of the problem.

But solving this is not easy.

It’s at this point that the kid in the Proptech classroom frantically waves his hand in the air and starts banging on about “Digital Signatures. Digital Signatures”.  Then, his geeky mates get in on the act and jump in with their usual “this will revolutionise conveyancing” nonsense.

I’m a huge fan of digital signatures, but I’m in a minority and there is a lot of skepticism amongst lawyers about their security.  No doubt some enlightened individual will comment after this article about there being a “fraudsters charter”.

Digital signatures are just a picture like those meaningless squiggles that people draw with a pen.  Yes – those real, wet signatures that lawyers think they can rely on.  Like the one, a fraudster copied from our clients’ authorisation letter and sent it to us from their email account to steal £300K from them.  Those were in the REALLY good old days when we used to use email. Because we stupidly thought it was safe.

Of course, digital signatures also contain important date and location information but let’s face it, the actual content and look of the signature is irrelevant.  This is demonstrated by some of the fonts that are available; one looks like a genuine five-year-old’s first attempt at writing their name.

Digital signatures are like a guilty pleasure.  They are great in theory, but in practice, they are difficult to incorporate into the conveyancing process. There are lots of documents that need to be created, and having clients sign them all is cumbersome.

It’s like comparing how we listen to music.  CDs were just a step-change improvement over mechanically similar vinyl records; they didn’t degrade and 100% identical copies could be made.  However, these awkward mechanical solutions only lasted a few decades. They are now almost irrelevant with streaming from within a single place now being the standard for music consumption.

Conclusion Digital Signatures

Instead of digitally signing individual documents, the future is clients working within a secure environment. Authentication is carried out at log-on and authorising any aspect of conveyancing will require just a single click of a tick box, radically speeding up the process.

Although they are good for one-off commitments such as your life-size Hasselhoff entertainment vessel, when it comes to conveyancing, digital signatures are a passing fad. They will fade away to become a distant memory.

If only that stain caused by that mysterious lumpy puddle next to your mum’s coffee table would do the same.

As published in Signatures